In about two decades, Tesla has done what everyone in the auto industry thought was impossible: create an all-electric brand that could sell hundreds of thousands of vehicles.
Tesla could have done that in a boring or modest way, developing the equivalent of an electric VW Beetle.
Instead, Tesla made fantastically compelling cars that are fast, look amazing, and are packed with features.
Here’s a rundown of all my favourites, ranked from bottom to top:
Tesla has been in business for 17 years. In that period of time, it’s consistently captivated the world not just because it makes all-electric cars, but because those cars have always been packed with cool features.
“Easter eggs” — frivolous little extras that Tesla throws in whenever it does software updates. Owners enjoy finding them.
The Model X’s falcon-wing doors. Dramatic, slightly impractical, and a nightmare to manufacture. But Tesla has the only SUV on the road with such an exotic feature.
Bioweapon Defence Mode uses a powerful filtration system to render the interior air quality of the Model X or Model S “hospital grade,” according to Tesla.
The Model X’s 5,000-pound towing capacity. Nobody ever talks about it, but the Model X can tow a goodly amount for an electric SUV. It’s very competitive with gas-powered SUVs that tout their capabilities.
The large, central portrait touchscreen on the Model S and Model X. This mega-tablet interface was a revelation when Tesla first introduced it on the Model S in 2012, but it’s now emulated throughout the auto industry. It’s actually canted slightly toward the driver.
Aero Wheels on the Model 3. The proprietary design is standard on the vehicle, enhancing airflow, reducing drag, and improving range.
Ludicrous Mode. The acceleration feature — which followed Insane Mode, first rolled for the all-wheel-drive Model S — enables Teslas to cover the 0-60 mph sprint at supercar-like velocities.
Frunks! All Teslas currently on sale have front trunks, expanding their cargo capacities. Having no gas engine helps to free up space.
Trunks! Teslas are commendable cargo haulers because they’re effectively boxes on top of battery packs, creating ample space for luggage, groceries, of gear.
Quiet. In operation, Teslas are notably quiet and smooth, thanks to the optimisation of airflow, solid build quality, and mostly silent electric motors.
The Tesla smartphone app. I’ve actually tested a number of these from assorted manufacturers, but Tesla’s is the only one that’s truly useful. For the Model 3, it replaces the traditional key fob.
The glass roof of the Model 3. It creates a stunning silhouette and floods the cabin with natural light.
The space-age operators’ platform in the cab of the Tesla Semi. This space — clearly anticipating a time when semi-trucks drive themselves — is the most futuristic thing Tesla has ever designed.
Roadsters in space. CEO Elon Musk’s personal Tesla Roadster was launched atop the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in 2017, as a test payload. Piloted by “Starman,” it set a new standard for automotive marketing.
Tesla’s in-house audio system. Most luxury brands partner with a big-name audio company for premium sound systems, but Tesla developed its own — and it sounds absolutely fantastic.
Charge monitoring and mapping. Charging is among the most important things Tesla has to think about, so the company has made it a priority to track it in the vehicle and via the app, as well as to plot road-trip courses that use GPS navigation to permit island-hopping from charging location to charging location.
Navigate on Autopilot combines Tesla’s GPS mapping system with Autopilot’s ability to execute lane changes and freeway on- and off-ramping manoeuvres.
The new Roadster’s staggering performance specs. The all-new machine has a claimed 0-60 mph time of 1.9 seconds, making it the fastest production vehicle in the world.
The Model 3’s consolidated vehicle-management system and central landscape touchscreen. Almost every aspect of the Model 3 is controlled here, and the traditional instrument cluster has been moved to the left side of the screen, and streamlined.
The radical design of the Cybertruck. In late 2019, Tesla had fallen into a design rut. The otherworldly, stainless-steel Cybertruck changed all that. Controversial to be sure, but also thrilling.
Manufacturing simplicity. Electric cars are less complicated to build than gas-powered ones. Tesla has designed its factory in China to optimise this aspect of production, which could support and enviable profit margin for Tesla in the 20-30% range.
The white interior. It’s an extra, but a very popular one. I was initially sceptical, but I’m now a fan. After all, it survived a 700-plus-mile family road trip!
Over-the-air software updates. Just like smartphones, Teslas can be routinely upgraded while sitting in owners’ driveways. This means that an older Tesla can acquire new features quite literally overnight.
The Supercharger network. Access to DC fast-charging used to be a lifetime perk for Tesla owners, but Tesla has begun to bill for the service. Still, it enables longer road trips and is completely integrated with each Tesla vehicle’s systems.
Tesla’s design philosophy. Head designer Franz von Holzhausen and Elon Musk argue that it doesn’t cost anymore to make Teslas beautiful. But von Holzhausen has also exercised tasteful restraint, ensuring that Tesla’s vehicles have a long market life.
Performance! Tesla vehicles have always combined electric virtuosity with industry-leading performance. Owners can usually expect to be driving one of the fastest cars on the road.
Battery design. Tesla has taken a complicated, multi-cell concept — thousands are wired together in packs — and perfected it, yielding impressive range and performance. The company also manufactures its own packs, in partnership with Panasonic.
The Model 3’s minimalist driving experience. With the clean dashboard, you can focus on the road ahead. It’s a blissful thing and my top Tesla feature.
The bottom line is that while plenty of other automakers put cool features in their cars, Teslas are crammed with ideas, ideas, and more ideas.